Spoke to me in sweet accustomed ways


This video's not my first choice, but my first choice got taken down years ago.  Which makes me sad, because it was even more wonderful than this is, and this is pretty wonderful.

Yes has a long, tortuous, and litigious history.  There was a period of time, during the 80s, when the band known as Yes was touring at the same time as another band called Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe who had actually written and recorded most of the songs that both bands were performing.  I look at who's in the band today and it's a bunch of strangers.

But back in the late 1970s, Yes was a known quantity, and Yes was a monster.  They were massively popular among high-school stoners.  They had a cool logo that you could pencil onto the cover of your textbooks, and their albums had cool surreal covers that you could stare at for hours.  They recorded songs with elaborate arrangements, virtuoso musicianship, and lyrics that had one foot in profundity and the other in word salad.  (Just listening to little clips this morning, I heard the line "melting the anger to stone," which has been making me angry for more than 40 years.)

The problem with Yes, see, is that they were very, very silly.  Worse, they didn't cop to it.  The resplendent mullets, the guy who stood behind a goddamn fortress of keyboards wearing a silver cape,  the stage set made out of plexiglas river stones lit from within, it was all the kind of thing that was begging to be made fun of.  Also, they took a genre of music that foundationally is about doing the nasty, and performed it from a perspective that seemed to be trying to transcend the physical, which is to say that they seemed to think sex was icky.  They were like the anti-Fleetwood Mac.

What I'm saying is that in a lot of ways Yes played hard to want.  

And yet some of their music is just great.  "Roundabout" is one of the best FM radio hits ever recorded.  The entire album Relayer is a wild ride.  "Heart of the Sunrise" is fantastic.  (Though I just read a recently-written appreciation of that song that, despite its enthusiastic praise, included the phrase, "not embarrassing at all.")  I still listen to "Close To The Edge" all the time.

And yet, I didn't, for close to 30 years.  I got too sophisticated for it, I thought.  You grow up, I thought, and Yes passes from your life.

What changed is that I was browsing YouTube one night and came upon something extraordinary:  a recording of the graduating class of the Paul Green School of Rock and Roll, in New York.  There were like nine kids on the stage, the oldest of them maybe fourteen, and they were playing "Close To The Edge." 

I immediately fell in love with this video, and am very sad that whatever proud parent put it up on the internet subsequently took it down.  It's not just that it was a good performance, which it was, or that their keyboard player was wearing a silver cape, which he did, or that he was trying to impress the girl singing vocals next to him, which he might have.  The kids' talent and their enthusiasm for the music was wonderful, but the thing that made me love it was that their lead singer was Jon Anderson.

Here was the best live performance by Yes that I'd seen in years.  It had at least as many of the band's original members as the group that was then performing under that name.  And god bless him, Anderson was singing his heart out, doing his best to help this group of nerdy kids sound as good as they could sound.

Anderson's done a couple of classes for the school, and their are a fair number of videos of their graduating projects.  This one is for "Starship Trooper," which, in its live form, is sort of "Freebird" for nerds.  It's an epic song, and it comes to this guitar-driven coda that is just this side of wankery.  It is almost not embarrassing at all.

The kids are so amped to be playing this, and it makes it a joy to watch.  Jon Anderson could be singing this song in an arena to an audience of thousands (indeed, just three years before this performance, he was doing just that), yet here he is an a school auditorium in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  I like him in this mode much more than I liked him when he was just a rock star.


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